Billy Wilder was an Austrian-born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age and is one of only five people to have won Academy Awards as producer, director and screenwriter for the same film (The Apartment). Wilder was born to a Jewish family in Sucha Beskidzka, Austria-Hungary and became a screenwriter in the late 1920s while living in Berlin. After the rise of the Nazi Party, Wilder left for Paris, where he made his directorial debut. He moved to Hollywood in 1933, and in 1939 he had his first hit when he co-wrote the screenplay for the Greta Garbo screwball comedy Ninotchka. In 1944 Wilder finally established his directorial reputation with Double Indemnity (1944), a thrilling murder story he co-wrote with crime novelist Raymond Chandler. Double Indemnity became the quintessential film noir with despicable characters who nonchalantly strutted through the formula of a routine murder plot, using cold sex play and mannerisms while spurting out snappy dialogue with a tough cynical attitude. A year later Wilder finally earned the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards for the gritty alcoholic drama The Lost Weekend (1945). In 1950, Wilder co-wrote and directed Sunset Blvd, a bleak and cynical black comedy and arguably the greatest film ever made that explored the dark sides of Hollywood and stardom. One year after scandalizing Hollywood, Wilder examined the gritty world of shady journalism, corrupt politicians and the exploitation of the media with his most underrated noir Ace in the Hole (1951). Besides films like Stalag 17 (1953) or Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Wilder began to focus mostly on classic comedies and farces throughout the 50’s and 60’s, including The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), Sabrina (1954) One Two Three (1961) and The Fortune Cookie (1966). Wilder holds a significant place in the history of Hollywood censorship for expanding the range of acceptable subject matter in American movies. Even today Wilder’s films do not date or age, retaining the same fresh, timeless and cynical edge, never resorting to cheap sentimentality. Wilder was recognized for various different awards throughout the years including the (AFI) Life Achievement Award in 1986, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1988, and in 1993 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. With eight nominations for Academy Award for Best Director, Wilder is, together with Martin Scorsese, the second most nominated director in the history of the Academy Awards, behind William Wyler, and the second most nominated screenwriter behind Woody Allen. When Wilder died in 2002 at the age of 95 a French newspaper Le Monde titled its first-page obituary, “Billy Wilder dies. Nobody’s perfect”, quoting the final gag line in his comedy Some Like It Hot.
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